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of California, 




Giant Sequoias 
of California 




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Harold L. I ekes, Secretary 

Newton B. Drury, Director 

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents 
Washington, D. d - - - Price 10 cents 


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California Tree, General Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park front cover 

In the Mariposa Grove, Tosemite National Park frontispiece 


1 Young sequoias 3 

2 The President Tree, Sequoia National Park 4 

3 Fallen sequoias 6 

4 Foliage and cones of the redwood {Sequoia sempervirens) 

5 Foliage and cone of the giant sequoia {Sequoia gigantea) 7 

6 Wawona Tree, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park 9 

7 Round Meadow, Sequoia National Park 11 

8 General Grant Tree, General Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park . . 12 

9 General Sherman Tree, Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park 15 

10 The Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park 18 

1 1 Fire-scarred giant sequoias 20 

12 Judge Walter Fry, first civilian superintendent of Sequoia National Park, 

standing beside a sequoia stub that has nearly completely covered itself 

with bark 23 

1 3 Stricken Tree, Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park 24 

1 4 Map showing location of the giant sequoia groves and the relative distribution 

of the giant sequoias and redwoods inside back cover 

In the Mariposa Grove, Yoscmitc National Park. Anderson Photo. 



HIGH in California's Sierra Nevada stand "nature's forest masterpieces" 
remnants of once widespread forests that covered a large portion of the 
Northern Hemisphere. Today but a relatively few of the giant sequoias l 
remain to interpret the past and give promise to the future. 

Although these forest monarchs have created great interest, aroused much 
speculation, and resulted in many stories since their earliest discovery, they 
continue to be among the mysteries and wonders of nature. The human 
tongue, gifted as it is, has failed to describe adequately their towering 
majesty and solemn beauty. As individuals, and as members of a forest 
community, they stand supreme — the largest and perhaps the oldest living 
things on earth. 

On his first pilgrimage to the giant sequoias the visitor views these trees 
with mixed feelings; awe, wonder, disbelief, and perhaps a bit of disap- 
pointment are jumbled together in a maelstrom of emotion. Much depends 
upon the presence or absence of familiar objects to lend scale and perspec- 
tive to the scene. Viewed as an individual, standing next to familiar 
man-made objects, the sequoia is more readily placed in proper perspective 
than when found in communities of sequoias and other large-sized asso- 
ciated trees. Statistics mean little to the initiate because he has no past 
experience upon which to base mental comparisons. With increasing 
familiarity, however, the size and grandeur of the giant sequoia gradually 
become comprehensible and a true interest and deep respect develop for 
this forest monarch. 

After seeing several of these trees, one cannot say that he has observed 
all that is of interest about them, for, like few other species, the giant sequoia 
exhibits great individuality and many unique characteristics. Each tree 
presents some new phase of size, persistence, or growth, and even those 
trees that have succumbed tell a fascinating story of life in the face of adver- 
sity. It is this tenacity to life and incomparable resistance to destruction 

1 The tree has been popularly known as Big Tree, sequoia, Sierra redwood, and giant 
sequoia. The last name is considered most descriptive and has recently been accepted 
by the Federal Government for official use. 




that make the giant sequoia unique in the tree world and are the keys to its 
long life and great size. 

Naturally many questions come to mind as the visitor becomes acquainted 
with this outstanding tree, and it is to answer some of the more important 
of these questions that this brief, nontechnical account of the giant sequoias 
was prepared. The park rangers and naturalists are always glad to assist 
in bettering your understanding of these trees, so if the answer is not found 
herein do not hesitate to make inquiry. By no means should the trees 
themselves be neglected, for it is by personal experience and reflection 
that a true regard and appreciation can best be developed for these mon- 
archs of the forest world. 

In the preparation of this bulletin the author is indebted to the following 
National Park Service colleagues for their advice and assistance: Chief 
of Forestry J. D. Coffman; Regional Forester Burnett Sanford; and the 
superintendents and staffs of Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite Na- 
tional Parks. Special credit is due to Forester A. Robert Thompson for 
his assistance in reviewing the text and preparing the map. 

Description of the Giant Sequoia 

The giant sequoia {Sequoia gigantea [Lindl.] Decn.) and the redwood 
(Sequoia semper vir ens Endl.) are the last surviving species of the rather large 
genus Sequoia that grew over much of the Northern Hemisphere during 
ancient geological times. Only two other species of trees closely resemble 
them — the bald cypress of our Southern States and the cryptomeria of 

The giant sequoia reproduces only from the seeds that older trees rain 
down annually by the million. In spite of such a generous seed crop, the 
chances of an individual seed to germinate, survive, and grow into a ma- 
ture tree are less than one in a billion, owing to the difficult growing con- 
ditions created partly by the sequoias themselves. A deep forest duff, 
heavy shade, and severe root competition take such a large toll of the 
relatively few seeds which germinate that it is only those in the most favor- 
able sites that survive the first year or two. For normal growth the sequoia 
seed must germinate and develop in a continuously moist but well drained 
soil with plenty of direct sunlight. 

Despite the difficulties of growth and the apparent scarcity of seedling 
sequoias in the groves, the species is in no danger of extinction through 
lack of reproduction, for whenever fire, wind, or other destructive agents 
eliminate the older trees and expose the mineral soil large numbers of 

Figure 1. — Young sequoias. These 
trees are 15 to 20 feet tall and ap- 
proximately 15 years old. 

sequoia seedlings appear and quickly 
develop into dense stands of vigorous 
trees. Even in the undisturbed forests 
one may note occasional seedlings and 
trees of all ages from youth to veteran. 

The sequoia flowers appear in the late 
winter (February or March) while deep 
snow is still on the ground. The tiny, 
bright yellow blossoms burst forth in a 
solid mass and change the color of the 
crown from deep green to golden for a 
short time. Clouds of yellow pollen are 

The cones are green or brownish in 
color, egg-shaped, and about 1% to 2% 
inches long and three-fourths to 1 inch 
in diameter when fully grown, although 
exceptional specimens may be much 
larger. They require 2}{ years to mature 
and are formed of approximately 36 hard 
fibrous scales, each one of which shelters 
2 to 6 seeds. 

The well-known truth that "mighty oaks from little acorns grow" is 
less astonishing than that of the sequoias' tiny beginnings. The seeds are 
flat, about the size of a pinhead, and are enclosed in a scalelike seed case 
from one-fourth to three-eighths inch long by one-fourth inch wide. They 
are shed from September on through the fall and winter, although the 
cones may remain on the branches for many years. Some of the seeds 
that are not shed immediately may remain fertile in the cones for years, 
When the cones of the sequoia open, the seed is released, together with 
tiny flakes of a purplish substance. Dissolved in water, this substance 
makes a good purple writing fluid. 

The sequoia less than 70 years of age sometimes produces a few seeds, 
but large seed production normally does not occur until the tree is several 
hundred years old. As long as the tree survives it continues to develop large 
numbers of cones and fertile seeds. One can merely speculate on the vast 
numbers of seeds produced by a veteran that has withstood storms, fires, 
and even geological changes during its life span. 

In youth, the sequoia has a tall slender trunk and a thin conical crown, 
the branches of which cover the trunk nearly to the ground. When the tree 
reaches its normal maximum height of 250 to 300 feet, it begins to broaden 
out, develop large lateral limbs, and shed the lower branches. As it readies 
old age the sequoia loses its smaller branches and assumes a broad conical 

Padilla Photo. 
Figure 2. — The bark of the giant sequoia is one of its most attractive features. The 

President Tree, Sequoia National Park. 

or open oval shape with a few immense limbs and large tufts of foliage. 
Some of the lateral branches of old trees exceed 4 feet in diameter — larger 
than the trunks of many more familiar trees. The trunks of older trees 
often show little taper for 100 feet or more above the large buttresses at 
the base. 

The bark of the giant sequoia is one of its most attractive features. It is 
a beautiful red brown, is of a soft fibrous nature, and is fluted in long vertical 
plates which give the tree a columnar appearance. The bark near the 
base of older trees is often from 6 to 10 inches thick, and may even be 2 feet 
thick. Higher up on the trunk the bark becomes thin, generally not more 
than 2 inches thick, and has a smooth burnished cast. In younger trees a 
purplish tinge lends interest to the bark. 

The wood of the giant sequoia is distinct from that of other conifers. The 
sapwood forms a pale yellow narrow band beneath the bark, whereas the 
heartwood is reddish purple when first exposed, but soon weathers to a dark 
chocolate brown. The annual growth rings are distinctly visible, except in 
very old trees where more recent growth may be so slight each year that the 
rings are almost microscopic in width. Resin canals are lacking, but the 
wood cells are heavily impregnated with a soluble reddish resinous material. 


At one time a considerable volume of lumber was produced from the 
giant sequoias but, owing to the difficulty of logging such immense trees and 
ihe great loss as a result of logging breakage, only a small volume now 
reaches the market. Although some of the largest trees contain more than 
500,000 board feet (enough to build 50 six-room houses), most of this is lost 
in logging or is of too poor a quality to be economically useful. The small 
volume still produced is similar to, and is sold as, redwood, but it is coarser 
grained and generally less satisfactory for most purposes. Its major value 
is for use where resistance to decay is important but strength is unnecessary. 
The excellent condition of old fallen logs, some of which fell centuries ago, 
testifies to the ability of this species to resist decay. It is among the most 
durable of woods and highly resistant to attack by termites. 

One of the characteristics of the older giant sequoias is the frequent 
occurrence of dead tops. The reason for this phenomenon is not definitely 
known, but it is unlikely that all of these stag-headed crowns result from 
any one cause since fire, lightning, loss or interruption of the water supply, 
deficient soil nutrients, and root injury have been observed to affect indi- 
vidual trees at various times. Many sequoias have been struck by light- 
ning and tops are occasionally burned or broken out, but no sequoia is 
known to have been killed by lightning. Perhaps many of the dead tops 
are traceable to partial destruction of the sapwood by fire near the base of 
the tree, since this portion supplies the channels through which water 
and minerals from the roots reach the needles, and an interruption of the 
conduction system may result in serious shortages. Practically all trees with 
dead tops display large fire scars at their bases. Decreased water and nu- 
trient supplies through changed water courses, increased root competition 
from other trees, or perhaps a decreasing ability of older root systems to 
function in a normal manner may account for some of the dead tops. 

The evergreen foliage of the giant sequoia consists of scalelike, sharp-pointed 
leaves closely overlapping each other along the twig, somewhat similar to 
the junipers. Each bluish-green leaf is about one-half inch long and extends 
outward from the axis of the stem about one-fourth of an inch. Individual 
leaves are not shed, but whole twigs and sometimes even branches fall. 

The root system of a fallen sequoia is a source of never-ending surprise 
since the flat plate of closely matted roots is relatively small for such a gigan- 
tic trunk. The roots extend out from the trunk in every direction for a 
hundred feet or more, and the feeding roots are very close to the surface 
of the ground. The giant sequoia develops no permanent taproot or other 
roots that extend deep into the ground, but sometimes a single root may 
grow out near the surface for as much as 200 or 300 feet toward water. 1 1 
is truly amazing that the shallow and relatively small root systems can 
support such vast bulks against the storms of the centuries. The trees are 


Figure 3. — Fallen sequoias. Note the closely matted and relatively small flat plate 

of roots. 


nicely balanced, however, and even leaning ones generally have their 
larger branches concentrated away from the direction of lean. It is inter- 
esting to speculate upon the vast quantities of water and minerals that these 
roots must have supplied to the foliage of one of these veterans through the 
years. When a tree finally does topple over, the roots are generally broken 
off close to the base of the tree. 

Differences Between Giant Sequoia and 


Although the giant sequoia and redwood are closely related, they exhibit 
many individual characteristics that distinguish them from each other. 
Perhaps the following major differences will help to answer some of the 
questions that may come to mind. 

Natural habitat. — The giant sequoia is found growing singly or in groups 
scattered for a distance of 250 miles along the western slopes of the Sierra 
Nevada in central California at elevations of 4,000 to 8,000 feet. The red- 
wood grows near the Pacific Ocean along the northern California coast in 
a more or less continuous belt about 450 miles long and 15 miles wide. 
(See Distribution Map on the Inside Back Cover.) 

Method of reproduction. — Both species reproduce from seed, but the redwood 
is one of the few conifers that is also able to develop sprouts from cut stumps, 
roots, and burls. 

Foliage. — The foliage of the giant sequoia is scalelike and somewhat 
resembles that of the junipers; redwood foliage is in the form of two-ranked 
needles like the hemlock. 

Shape and size. — The giant sequoia is the largest tree in the world in 
volume and has an immense trunk with very slight taper: the redwood is 
the world's tallest tree and has a slender trunk. 

Cones and seed. — The cones and seed of the giant sequoia are about three 
times the size of those produced by the redwood. 

Woody structure. — The wood of the giant sequoia is much coarser in texture 
than that of the redwood, and growth rings of the redwood are wider. 
Both woods are highly resistant to decay. 

Color of bark. — The bark of the giant sequoia is bright reddish brown, 
whereas that of the redwood is a dull chocolate brown. 

Discovery and Naming of the Sequoias 

The first of the two species of Sequoia to be seen by the white man was the 
redwood. The Spanish padres of Portola's Expedition probably first saw 
the redwoods in 1769 during their travels of exploration and colonization 
along the coast of what is now California. They called the trees "Palo 
Colorado," meaning red trees or redwood because of the bright red color of 
the heartwood. 

The discovery that the redwood was a new botanical species was made by 
Archibald Menzies, botanist with the Vancouver Expedition in 1794. It 
was not until 1823, however, that A. B. Lambert, an English botanist, first 
gave it a scientific name by publishing a description that placed the tree in 
the same genus as bald cypress, Taxodium. Since he thought that it closely 
resembled that species, he called the new tree Taxodium semper vir ens. 

Steven Endlicher, a German botanist, decided that specimens he had 
studied represented an entirely new genus and in 1847 renamed it Sequoia 
but retained the species name of sempervirens. 

The giant sequoia was not discovered until at least 64 years after the red- 
wood. There is some disagreement among historians as to who should 
receive credit for the discovery, but the most authentic evidence indicates 
that the Joseph R. Walker exploration partv saw the giant sequoias in 1833 
in either the Merced or the Tuolumne Grove of Yosemite National Park. 

Figure 4. — Foliage and cones of the 
redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. (Ap- 
proximately two-thirds of natural size.) 

Figure 5. — Foliage and cone of the 
giant sequoia, Sequoia gigantea. (Ap- 
proximately two-thirds of natural size.) 


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The discovery was not publicized at first except in the journal of the ex- 
pedition, which was printed in 1839 at Clearfield, Pa. In 1852, when A. T. 
Dowd reported on his observations of the trees in what is now the Calaveras 
Grove, many fantastic stories quickly spread of the apparently impossible 
bulk of the trees. They were immediately called "Mammoth Trees" or 
"Big Trees" because of their immense size. All early tales of the great 
size of the trees were considered as exaggerations, and whenever scores 
of feet were discussed the listener thought that inches were meant. 

By 1 870 most of the larger giant sequoia groves were known, but as late 
as 1900 an official Government report 2 listed only 11 groves: North, 
Calaveras, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced, Mariposa, Fresno, Dinkey, 
Kings-Kaweah (grouped because of lack of information), North Fork of 
the Tule River (also grouped for lack of information), and South Fork of the 
Tule River. As late as 1933 a small grove was discovered, or at least first 

Specimens of the Sierra Nevada species of sequoia reached England in 
1853. John Lindley, a botanist, created a new genus and called it Well- 
ingtonia, in honor of the Duke of Wellington who had died the previous 
year, and gave the species the name of gigantea because of the tree's size. 
In 1854, J. Decaisne, the French botanist, recognized that the new species 
belonged to the same genus as the redwood and renamed the tree Sequoia 

The tree has been popularly known as Big Tree, sequoia, Sierra redwood, 
and giant sequoia. The last name is considered most descriptive and has 
recently been accepted by the Federal Government for official use. 

There is some question regarding the origin of Endlicher's name "Se- 
quoia." The generally accepted belief is that he named the tree in honor 
of the Cherokee Indian Sequoyah (using the Latinized spelling of the name). 
Endlicher was a linguistic student as well as a botanist and probably was 
aware that this uneducated, non-English-speaking Indian had developed, 
in 1821, an alphabet of 86 symbols representing each sound in the language 
of his tribe. This alphabet was so simple that anyone in the tribe could 
quickly learn to read and write, and it is considered one of the cultural 
masterpieces of modern times. Sequoyah was elected by the Cherokee 
Council in 1828 as their representative in Washington, where he became a 
highly respected citizen. The State of Oklahoma has recognized him as 
one of its leading citizens by placing his statue in Statuary Hall in the Na- 
tional Capitol. It is indeed fitting that this noblest of trees, with its massive 
red trunk, should honor one of our original Americans. 

2 United States Department of Agriculture. Division of Forestry. A short account 
of the big trees of California. 1900. (Bulletin No. 28.) 


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Anderson Photo. 

Figure 6. — The famous Wawona Tree, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park. 
Pictured in schoolbooks for three generations, this tree was cut through in 1881 for the 

passage of horse-drawn stagecoaches. 

Distribution of the Giant Sequoias 

The giant sequoia grows only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada 
in central California, at elevations of 4,000 to 8,000 feet, in a narrow belt 
for a distance north and south of about 250 miles. The most northerly 
grove of six standing trees is on the Middle Fork of the American River 
in Placer County, and the most southerly is on Deer Creek in Tulare 
County. The trees do not grow in a continuous belt but occur in more or 
less scattered groves, approximately 63 in number, which contain from 
as few as six up to many thousands of individual trees. The northern 
groves are relatively small and widely separated, but south of the Kings 
River the groves approach forest dimensions, are more closely spaced, and 
occasionally are almost connected by scattered individual trees. 

The giant sequoias always grow in association with other trees, except 
in a few groups where the density of the sequoias prevents their lesser 
associates from entering the area. In most of the groves the forest is com- 
posed of white fir, sugar pine, ponderosa pine, incense cedar, and Douglas- 
fir, with the giant sequoias scattered as individuals or groups throughout 
the area. The forest floor is covered with lupines, dogwood, ceanothus, 
chinquapin, azalea, alder, and willow. Many beautiful grassy meadows 
covered with a multitude of ever-changing flowers are found within the 

Many of the giant sequoias are far from the beaten path in rugged moun- 
tain country, still almost as little known as they were" when first discovered 
by the white man, so that the visitor has somewhat the exhilaration of an 
explorer discovering a new form of life when he comes upon them. In all 
the groves — even those most heavily visited — one has a deep feeling of 
peace and reverence, as within a cathedral. 

The giant sequoia is among the most limited in range and number of 
individuals of any of the major tree species. A complete count of all of 
the larger giant sequoias has not been made, but the trees of many groves 
have been measured and plotted on maps. Estimates based upon these 
counts, however, indicate that there are probably fewer than 20,000 giant 
sequoias in the world more than 10 feet in diameter, although there are, 
of course, many times this number of smaller specimens. The total area 
occupied by the giant sequoia groves probably does not exceed 15,000 acres. 

Reproduction does not occur naturally to any great extent outside the 
limits of the groves and is relatively scarce within many of them. In 
almost no grove, however, is it entirely absent, and well-scattered trees 
of all ages, from seedlings to venerable giants, may usually be found. The 
species is apparently in no danger of early decline in numbers or area from 
any known natural causes. 






























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Size of the Giant Sequoia 

The giant sequoia stands supreme in size 
among the members of the plant world. No 
other species even closely competes with the 
vast volume of wood in the trunks of some of 
the larger sequoias which rise as immense 
cylinders with very gradual taper for almost 
300 feet into the sky. 

This species, however, is exceeded in height 
by at least three others. The redwood, which 
is the tallest tree in the world, reaches a 
height of 364 feet. The Douglas-fir of the 
Pacific Northwest and the mountain gum 
of Australia reach maximum heights of 324 
and 326 feet, respectively. The giant sequoia 
is probably fourth in height at about 300 feet, 
but has close competition from two other 
American species — the Sitka spruce and 
western hemlock— which also approach the 
same height. None of these other tall trees, 
however, exceeds 20 feet in diameter 4% feet 
above the ground. 

In diameter and circumference the giant 
sequoia is probably exceeded by only a single 
tree. A tule cypress, far exceeding in size 
any other of that species, near Santa Maria 
del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico, has a diameter of 
36.1 feet and a circumference of 113 feet. This 
tree, however, is only 130 feet tall. 

The vast size of the sequoias is difficult to 
comprehend fully. It is so out of proportion 
to commonly recognized measurements of 
trees or other familiar objects that figures 
regarding size do not register a clear picture 
of its vastness. One of the best illustrations 
known to the writer is that furnished bv a 
single branch on the General Sherman Tree 
in Sequoia National Park. This branch is 
6.8 feet in diameter as it turns upward from 
the trunk 130 feet from the ground and is 150 
feet in length. Thus, it is larger than the 
largest specimens of many more familiar tree species, yet, in itself, is an 
inconspicuous part of the tree. 

Figure 8. — General Grant 
Tree, General Grant Grove, 
Kings Canyon National Park. 


Table 1 . — Size of the largest giant sequoias l 

Mean diameter- 



to top 


ter of 

base on 


of first 



eter of 


Name of tree 


At 60 

At 120 

of limbs 

loss by 








Cu. Ft. 

General Sher- 

Giant Forest, Se- 








49, 600 


quoia National 

General Grant 

Grant Grove, 
Kings Canyon 
National Park. 








43, 038 

Boole. - 

Converse Forest, 
Sequoia Na- 







39, 974 

tional Forest. 


Redwood Canyon, 
Kings Canyon 






32, 607 

National Park. 

Grizzly Giant, 

Mariposa Grove, 
Yosemite Na- 
tional Park. 








30, 30(> 

1 Figures were obtained by a group of well-qualified engineers and involved several hundred individual 
measurements and computations on each tree. Surveyors' transits were used and all measurements checked. 

Table 2. — Size of other large giant sequoias 

Name of tree 


Base di- 




Giant Forest, Sequoia National 




27. 5 







Wawona (Tunnel Tree) . 

Grant Grove, Kings Canyon Na- 
tional Park. 

Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National 



Table 3.— Size of other large trees 

Tree species 


Base di- 


Redwood — Founders 
Tree (tallest tree in 
the world). 

Mountain gum 

(Eucalyptus regnans) 

Humboldt Redwood State Park, 
Dycrvillc, Calif. 

Mount Baw Baw, near Melbourne, 

15. 1 







3. — Size of other large trees — Con 


Tree species 


Base di- 


Tule cypress 


Kauri pine 


Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, 

Christmas Island, near Singapore. . 
New Zealand 

36. 1 






Age of the Giant Sequoias 

A considerable volume of fact and fiction has been printed and many 
conflicting claims have been made regarding the age of sequoias as well as 
of other species of trees. Such stories and claims have created considerable 

The age of a large woody tree can be determined accurately only by an 
actual count of the annual growth rings on a cross section of the stump or 
butt log after the tree is cut down. All trees, except the group of mono- 
cotyledons to which the palm belongs, customarily produce a narrow layer 
of new wood just under the bark each year. There is a slight difference in 
the appearance of the wood cells produced in the spring and those produced 
in the summer. In some species this variation is more evident than in 
others, but it usually provides a visible series of concentric annual rings that 
may be counted. An estimate of the growth rate may be secured by using 
an increment borer to obtain a core showing the annual rings. It is not 
practical, however, to remove a core more than 2 feet deep in most trees, so 
that accurate information concerning only the more recent growth may 
be obtained. 

All trees grow faster during their youth than later. For example, during 
the first 75 years in the life of a giant sequoia it may increase in diameter at 
an average rate of an inch every 3 to 5 years, but in some veterans it may 
require more than 20 years to produce a diameter increase of an inch. It 
is impossible to say with any appreciable degree of accuracy just how old a 
large standing and living tree may be. 

The most accurate data for estimating the age of standing trees are 
obtained from fallen or cut trees of comparable size which grew under 
similar conditions and whose growth rings have been counted. Such 
counts made on a large number of sequoias of various sizes reveal that there 
may be a wide variation in the age of trees of approximately the same size. 
For example, ring counts made on two giant sequoias about 15 feet in 
diameter above the butt swell revealed that one was 2,410 years old and 
that the other was a mere youth of only 1,740 years. 


Figure 9.— General Sherman Tree, Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park. Mains Photo. 

Claims of great age have been presented for many species of trees. The 
baobab of Africa has been estimated to reach an age of perhaps 4,000 years, 
but to date no authentic ring count has been presented. The banyan of 
India has an estimated age of 3,000 years, which is fairly well authenticated 
by historical data. The tule cypress of Oaxaca, Mexico, has been variously 
estimated to be from 2,000 to 5,000 years old, with 3,000 the estimate of the 
most expert investigator. Claims of age of living trees up to 12,000 years 
have been made for several species, including the Macrozamia of Australia 
which is a cycad and does not produce annual rings. The age of palms, 
cycads, and other monocotyledons is estimated by counting the number of 
persistent leaf bases on the trunk and dividing by the number of leaves 
probably produced each year. This, of course, may be variable and the 
result inaccurate. It is significant to note that in practically every case 
where careful study and comparisons of very large trees have been made by 
scientists age estimates have been materially reduced from the claims made 
by enthusiastic boosters, in some cases to less than 1,000 years. 

Since actual ring counts on many fallen and cut sequoias show that the 
age of this species frequently exceeds 3,000 years, and since one was proved 
to be 3,210 years old, some of the larger trees may exceed 3,500 years in age. 
On the basis of present verified evidence, the giant sequoia is the oldest 
living thing on earth. 

Enemies of the Giant Sequoia 

Because of the large tannin content of its wood, the giant sequoia is prac- 
tically immune to fatal attack by either fungous diseases or insects, although 
both attack the tree. The short longitudinal galleries that may be seen 
beneath the bark on felled or dying sequoias are due to the work of the 
sequoia bark beetle, Phloeosinus rubicundulus Sw. The insect known as the 
sequoia scale, Aonidia shastae, has been known to attack and discolor giant 
sequoia reproduction foliage, although no fatal attacks have been observed. 

The only real threats to the life of sequoias are fire, wind, undermining 
by water erosion, and man's destructive acts. 

Although fire is deadly to young sequoias, older trees are less susceptible 
to total destruction; in fact, few very large trees are known to have been 
killed by a single fire, even those that must have burned slowly for months. 
The effects of past fires are to be seen everywhere in the groves. Many of 
the large visible scars must have been produced centuries ago, since the 
nearby large but much younger pines and firs often do not show fire scars, 
and therefore could not have been standing at the time of the fire. Most 
of the giant sequoias more than 10 feet in diameter exhibit fire scars which 
vary in size from small basal burns to vast areas of trunk and top. There 


are several trees in which the entire heart has been burned out and within 
which one can stand and look up through the shell, as in a giant chii mey, 
and view the sky; yet the trees continue to support a few living branches. 
Other giant sequoias have but a small section of the trunk alive, all the rest 
having been burned away from base to top. Most of the larger scars are 
at the base and are frequently found on opposing faces of two trees standing 
close together where reflected heat from one to the other was able to keep 
the temperature above the kindling point and sustain the fire. The same 
factors account for the continuation of fire in the heart of a tree. 

No other species of the plant kingdom is able to survive the intense heat 
of long-continued fires as does the giant sequoia. Its phenomenal resistance 
to fire may be attributed to the thick, asbestos-like bark, which does not 
burn readily even under intense heat. A single fire seldom enters the trunk 
unless there is already an opening through the bark. However, the first 
fire may kill the cambium (the living, growing tissue immediately beneath 
the outer bark) as a result of sustained heat generated in the large accumula- 
tions of debris often found at the bases of large trees. Later the bark cracks 
and falls off, thus exposing the dead sapwood, which is easily ignited by a 
second fire. 

The recuperative power of the giant sequoia is also great. Soon after the 
bark is burned away the cambium begins to grow around the scarred areas 
and slowly attempts to close the wounds. With a relatively short life span, 
the average tree would find difficulty in closing a large wound, but in the 
case of the sequoia, with centuries in which to effect recovery, the attempt 
often succeeds. 

The sequoias have withstood the ravages of wind and storm for centuries 
and the few that are known to have fallen during windstorms have done so 
because of the weakening of one side by fire, erosion, or softening of the 
ground by a change in moisture condition. 

So far as known, lightning is not a usual cause of death to these trees. It 
is true, however, that many sequoias are struck and that some occasionally 
are set afire far up in the top and the branches sometimes broken off. One 
medium-sized tree in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park shows the 
effects of a very severe lightning stroke by its shattered crown and the large 
cracks that extend far down the trunk — but the tree still lives. Probably 
the fires of centuries ago, which are still evidenced by the burned trunks, 
were caused by lightning. 

Changes in ground level and soil condition are probably the most com- 
mon contributing causes of the death of large sequoias. Through the 
centuries it is inevitable that some change in local physiographic condition 
would occur. Streams gradually erode away the supporting ground on 
one side of a tree, weakening the support so that the sequoia may fall across 
the stream. The dam thus created backs up the water and eventually a 


Figure 10.— The Grizzly Giant in winter, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park. 

marshy meadow is created about the roots of trees upstream from the fallen 
giant. Through the soaking of the ground some of these trees may be 
killed, while others may be weakened to such an extent that wind finally 
topples them. 

Strangely enough, some of the large trees fall with a terrific roar on quiet 
days of late summer or in the winter. The reason for this is not known, 
but it may be due to internal stresses set up by a great difference in the 
moisture content of the outer and inner wood at the base of the tree. 

Geological Record of the Sequoias 

In addition to being one of the most magnificent and long-lived plants, 
the sequoia is distinguished by having one of the most ancient lineages of 
any living species. Evidence of the sequoia's antiquity is sustained by fos- 
silized remains found buried in the mud and silts of early geological periods. 

The family probably began to appear with the tree ferns, ginkgo, and 
other land plants during the period when giant lizards, ichthyosaurs, and 
dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago. At least a dozen species 
of sequoia are known to have occurred in many parts of what is now the 
United States and in central and western Europe. During the period 
when the oaks, maples, hickories, and other hardwoods of modern time were 
developing, it is probable that the several species of sequoia were almost as 
abundant and widespread as the pines of today. At least one of the several 
species grew practically everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere and their 
fossilized cones and foliage differ but little from the living specimens of the 
present day. 

The sequoias were particularly well adapted to preservation because of 
the slow disintegration of cones and foliage and the tannin content of the 
wood which retarded decay. In Yellowstone National Park fossilized 
sequoia trunks 6 to 10 feet in diameter and 30 feet high may be seen stand- 
ing in the midst of several species of modern trees. Sequoia fossil beds have 
been found ^in several parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. 

It is probable that the rapid decline in distribution of the sequoias and 
the complete elimination of all but two of its formerly large number of 
species may be attributed to volcanic eruptions, the creation of large desert 
areas, and the climatic changes that occurred several hundred thousand 
years ago. The more recent history of the sequoias is imperfectly known 
since few fossils of this period have been found. Nature is unable to expand 
the present natural range of the two remaining species because of the exact- 
ing limitations imposed by elevation, climate, and the influence of fire. 

None of the present groves of giant sequoias are growing on recently 
glaciated ground. The glaciers that swept down from the Sierra Nevada 
in relatively recent times (20,000 years ago) were often less than 5 miles 


Padilla Photo.] 

Figure 11. — Fire scars are everywhere visible in the groves. 

distant from many of the present-day groves of sequoias. Glacial action 
may be one of the major causes for tne limited distribution in scattered 

Conservation of the Giant Sequoias 

Many of the early discoverers of the sequoia groves envisioned vast returns 
from logging these giants of the forest. The more accessible groves were 
promptly appropriated by lumber companies for private gain, and many 
giant sequoia areas passed into private hands along with the fine forests of 
pine that surrounded them. Logging began as early as 1862 and reached 
its peak from 1880 to 1900 when many groves of giant sequoia were cut. 
However, the vast size of the trees, difficulty of logging in the rough topog- 
raphy, and the immense machinery required to handle the logs partially 
protected the more inaccessible tracts. 

The activities of the loggers stimulated the desire of a few public-spirited 
individuals to preserve some of the remaining groves of these little-known 
trees about which such apparently exaggerated reports had been made, but 
general lack of knowledge concerning their true size, extent, and character- 
istics delayed action for years. 

One of the early forest conservation acts of the Congress of the United 
States was the passage in 1864 of an act called the "Yosemite and Big Tree 
Grant," which set aside 40 square miles of the Public Domain, embracing 
Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of sequoias "to be held as a 
park inalienable for all time." This area was administered by the State 
of California until 1906 when it was receded to the United States as a part 
of Yosemite National Park. 

As a result of public appeals and the recommendations of the General 
Land Office of the United States Department of the Interior, bills were 
introduced in Congress in 1881 to set aside, either as a park or forest 
preserve, the whole western slope of the Sierra Nevada from Yosemite 
to the Kern River, which embraced most of the giant sequoia areas. 
These bills failed of passage since the opposition felt that the territory was 
too extensive. Later legislation, however, resulted in the creation in 1890 
of the Sequoia, Yosemite, and General Grant National Parks (second, 
third, and fourth parks of the national park system) to preserve forever 
the forests of sequoias included within their boundaries. Governmental 
protection was placed over many more sequoias in 1893 when the Sierra 
Forest Preserve, at that time under the jurisdiction of the United States 
Department of the Interior, was set aside. 

Other important sequoia groves have been preserved from private 
xploitation in various ways; some by outright purchase by public-spirited 
itizens and conservation organizations: some by direct governmental ac- 


quisition; and others by a combination of these two methods in which pri- 
vate contributions were matched by governmental funds. The most 
recent acquisition, authorized by President Roosevelt in 1938, is the 
magnificent forest in Redwood Canyon. This forest was added to Kings 
Canyon National Park in 1940, thus saving for posterity one of the finest 
endangered groves that remained in private ownership and perhaps the 
best example of an all-aged sequoia stand. 

A survey of the present ownership of the giant sequoia groves indicates 
that approximately 92 percent of the larger trees are protected by public 
agencies. From present knowledge of these trees the custodianship of the 
estimated 20,000 trees more than 10 feet in diameter is divided about as 

Type of ownership 

Federal: Percent 

National parks 68 

National forests 21 

Office of Indian Affairs 1 

State and county parks 2 

Private ownership 8 

The National Park Service has devoted much thought and planning to 
the protection of the groves and of the important individual large trees 
entrusted to its care. Since fire is one of the greatest threats to the life of 
trees, intensive forest fire protection provisions have been made for all 
sequoia groves in public ownership. Great care is exercised in the selection 
of routes for roads, sites for structures, camps, etc., in order to avoid injury 
to these giant trees. Because the roots of the sequoia are all very close to 
the surface, it is necessary to prevent excessive trampling about the trunks. 
This is the reason for the barriers surrounding the more popular trees which 
are visited annually by thousands of persons. Public cooperation in the 
protection of the giant sequoias is essential. 

Artificial Regeneration of the Giant Sequoia 

The giant sequoia is being grown successfully from seed in many places 
outside its natural range; indeed, several trees more than 50 years of age 
and showing rapid growth are to be found in the warmer parts of the 
United States and in many places in southern and central Europe. This 
indicates that the species is able to adapt itself to a rather wide range of 
climatic conditions. 

It is relatively easy to raise seedlings of the giant sequoia, although the 
fertility of the seed is low, being only about 10 percent. The seed should 


be sown about one-fourth inch deep in well- 
drained but moist mineral soil to which 
a little wood ash has been added. Although 
germination requires several weeks and seed- 
lings develop slowly during the first year, 
growth is rapid thereafter under good 

The requirements for successful growth of 
the giant sequoia outside its natural range 
appear to be moderate winter temperatures 
and relatively low summer humidities. In 
its normal habitat temperatures range from a 
minimum of about 10° F. in winter to a 
maximum of 85° F. in summer. The annual 
precipitation in the groves is about 25 to 30 
inches, and winter snows accumulate to 
depths of 12 feet. Summer rains are rare, 
however, and less than 1 inch falls between 
June and September. The sequoias are 
only found in places where ample under- 
ground moisture is available in summer. 

Attempts to grow these trees in Northern 
States and other cold or wet climates have 
generally failed. Several attempts have been 
made to grow the species in the Arnold Ar- 
boretum of Harvard Universitv in Boston, 



Figure 12. — The recuperative 
power of the giant sequoia is 
great. Judge Walter Fry, first ci- 
vilian superintendent of Sequoia 
National Park, standing beside 
a sequoia stub that has nearly 
completely covered itself with 
bark after 36 years of growth. 

Mass., where the trees grew slowly to heights 
of 3 to 6 feet, but died during the first severe winter. One of the longest- 
lived giant sequoias in the Northeast was located in Aurora, N. Y., on the 
shore of Fake Cayuga. This tree was more than 70 feet tall and 20 inches 
in diameter and was supposed to have been 70 years old. It was killed, 
however, by the severe winter of 1933-34. In Washington, D. C, several 
attempts have been made to grow giant sequoias but, perhaps because of 
the high summer humidity, they have invariably weakened and died. 

A notable exception to the general rule of failure in the Eastern United 
States is the relatively large Sequoia gigantea growing on the grounds of the 
Tyler Arboretum near Lima, Pa. This specimen, when examined in 
November 1941, was 25){ inches in diameter at breast height and was 
estimated to be approximately 52 feet in height. 

Many fine specimens, some at least 50 years old, are to be found in 
arboretums and city parks in England and southern Europe. 


Figure 13. — The Stricken Tree, 
Giant Forest, Sequoia National 
Park. Lightning broke the en- 
tire top out of this tree in 
1925, but the tree still lives. 


It is sincerely hoped that this brief account 
of the giant sequoia wiJl be of assistance to 
those who contemplate a visit to the groves, to 
those whose pilgrimage has become a reality, 
and to those who have gained acquaintance 
with these forest morarchs. No bulletin of 
this limited scope could possibly do full justice 
to the unique story of these most unusual 
trees, and all who are interested are urged to 
consult the more pretentious publications 
on this interesting subject. 

The wonder of these trees, their size, 
majesty, and mystery deepen with time and 
study. Personal acquaintance with the giant 
sequoias in their cathedral groves on the 
slopes of the Sierra Nevada cannot but 
produce cherished memories of a worth-while 

Brief Description and Location of Giant 

Sequoia Groves 

[Numbers refer to Distribution Map on the Inside Back Cover] 

1. North (American River) Grove: Consists of 6 standing and 2 prostrate trees from 2 to 

12 feet in diameter. No reproduction. In Placer County at 5,100 feet elevation, 
on a small tributary of the Middle Fork of the American River. Inaccessible. 

2. Calaveras Grove: About 50 acres of sequoias with more than 150 trees, of which at 

least 85 are 10 feet or more in diameter. One of the best known groves and the 
first to be publicized following its discovery in 1852. In Calaveras Big Trees 
State Park, 54 miles south of the North Grove, on a tributary of the North Fork 
of the Stanislaus River at 4,700 feet elevation. On a State highway. 

3. Stanislaus Grove: A large, fine, privately owned grove of about 1,000 acres containing 

947 trees, of which at least half are 10 feet or more in diameter. Includes one of 
the largest trees — the Agassiz Tree — which is 30 feet in diameter and 250 feet tall. 
Located 6 miles south of Calaveras Grove and on both sides of the North Fork of 
the Stanislaus River. Accessible only by trail. 



4. Tuolumne Grove: A small grove of 25 fine specimens and also the Dead Giant, 29 ^ 

feet in diameter. Covers about 20 acres. The first giant sequoias viewed by 
white man, in 1833, were probably in this grove or the nearby Merced Grove. 
Located near Crane Flat on the Big Oak Flat Road. 

5. Merced Grove: Contains 20 large trees. Located 4 miles south of Tuolumne Grove. 

6. Mariposa Grove: One of the most famous groves; contains more than 200 trees 10 

feet or more in diameter and thousands of younger trees. Includes the Grizzly 
Giant, also the Wawona Tree through which a tunnel was cut in 1881 for the 
passage of horse-drawn stage coaches. Located in the southwest corner of the 
park, 35 miles by highway from Yosemite Valley. 


7. Fresno (Nelder) Grove: Now covers about 200 acres. Partly cut in the 1880's and 

later burned, but still contains many large trees and good reproduction. About 
5 miles south of the Mariposa Grove. 

8. Mckinley (Dinkey Creek) Grove: A fine grove covering about 50 acres and containing 

170 large trees but little reproduction. On Dinkey Creek, a tributary of the 
North Fork of Kings River, 38 miles southeast of the Fresno Grove. 


9. Boole Tree Grove: 10. Converse Basin Forest: 11. Indian Basin: Remnants of a once 

fine forest (probably the most extensive) which covered about 6,000 acres but was 
almost completely cut over between 1862 and 1900 and later burned. The 
Boole Tree, one of the largest trees in the world, was left standing on the slopes of 
Converse Mountain. Some reproduction in spots. Located on Converse, Mill, 
and Indian Creeks, south tributaries of the Kings River. 
12 to 16. Kings River Groves: A group of relatively small groves, mostly inaccessible? 
located south of the South Fork of the Kings River. Partly in private ownership 
and accessible only by trail. 


17. General Grant Grove: A magnificent grove covering 140 acres, with many fine and very 

large trees, including the General Grant, General Lee, California, and other famous 
trees. This grove was preserved in the former General Grant National Park from 
1890 to 1940 when it was included in the larger Kings Canyon National Park. 
Readily accessible by highway 

18. Big Stump Grove: This entire grove was cut over but now has very dense reproduc- 

tion in spots. Contains the Adam Stump, a remnant of one of the largest trees 
ever cut. Partly included in Kings Canyon National Park which was established 
by act of Congress of March 4, 1940. 

19. Redwood Canyon (Redwood Mountain) Forest: Perhaps the best example of an all- 

aged stand of giant sequoias. Covers more than 2,500 acres and contains thou- 
sands of these trees. Purchased in 1940 by the Federal Government from private 
owners for inclusion in Kings Canyon National Park. On Redwood Creek, a 
tributary of the North Fork of the Kawcah River. Accessible from the Generals 


20. Lost Grove: A small but beautiful grove through which the Generals Highway passes. 

Covers 57 acres and contains 15 trees more than 10 feet in diameter. Near tli< 
northwest boundary of the park. 



21. Muir Grove: One of the most beautiful groves. Covers 450 acres and contains many 

very large trees. Two separate groves— Pine Ridge and Skagway — are included 
with this area. In the northwest section of the park on tributaries of the North 
Fork of the Kaweah River. 

22. Halstead (Suwanee) Grove: A small but attractive grove covering 70 acres west of 

the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. 

23. Giant Forest: The largest and finest forest of giant sequoias in the world, with manv 

portions where other species of trees are practically excluded by the density of the 
large sequoias. Contains three of the largest known trees — General Sherman, 
Lincoln, and President — as well as hundreds of other giants. The forest covers 
2,387 acres. Located between the Marble and Middle Forks of the Kaweafi 
River, at 5,000 to 7,000 feet elevation, on the Generals Highway. 

24. Redwood Meadow Groves: Five separate groves covering 400 acres. Several unusual 

features are found in these groves. There are 5 large, fire-killed standing sequoias 
(rare in the groves). The only known young sequoias growing upstream very far 
from the old groves are found here, with 2 trees, 2 and 3 feet in diameter, growing 
more than half a mile from any others. They are apparently not relics of a former 
stand in this vicinity. On the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah 
River. Accessible only by trail. 

25. Castle Creek Groves: Three hundred forty-five acres of widely scattered sequoias on 

the south slopes of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. Accessible only by trail. 

26. Atwell Grove: A fine forest with many large trees and abundant reproduction. Cov- 

ers 1,440 acres, including the more or less separate Redwood Creek Grove. Par- 
tially logged years ago. The highest elevation at which a giant sequoia is known 
to grow naturally (8,800 feet) is found here. This tree is 13.7 feet in base diameter 
and 140 feet tall. On the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Accessible from the 
Mineral King Road. 

27. East Fork Grove: Covers 473 acres in the park and 321 acres in the Sequoia National 

Forest. A fire, years ago, divided this grove into two separate units. On the south 
side of the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Accessible by trail. 

28. Paradise Ridge, Oriole, and Squirrel Creek Groves: Cover 230 acres of beautiful forest 

including several large specimens. Near the west boundary of the park, on the 
north side of the East Fork of the Kaweah River. 

29. Coffeepot Canyon and Case Mountain Groves: Outside and west of the park. Cover about 

200 acres. Few large trees. 

30. Eden Grove: Covers 864 acres, with many large trees rather widely scattered. On 

the south side of the East Fork of the Kaweah River. 

31. Horse Creek Grove: This grove was first reported in 1933. Covers 90 acres and con- 

tains approximately 70 trees more than 10 feet in diameter. On a tributary of the 
East Fork of the Kaweah River. Inaccessible. 

32. Surprise Grove: 33. South Fork Groves: Three groves covering 665 acres, with many 

large trees. On the north side of the South Fork of the Kaweah River. Accessible 
only by trail. 

34. Garfield Grove: A fine grove covering 1,356 acres, with many large specimens. The 
lowest elevation at which the giant sequoia is known to grow naturally. (2,900 feet) 
is located beside the river below this grove. South of, and on tributaries of, the 
South Fork of the Kaweah River. Accessible only by trail. 


35. Dillonwood Grove: A large grove containing many large and fine trees. Lower portion 

partly logged. Covers about 2,000 acr^s on the headwaters of the North Fork of 
the Tule River, partly within the park and partly within the Sequoia National 
Forest at 5,400 to 8,000 feet elevation. 

36. Devils Canyon and Dennison Mountain Groves: Two small groves covering about 56 

acres in the southwestern corner of the park. Inaccessible. 


37. Rancheria Grove: A small grove on Bear Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the 

Tule River. 

38. Mountain Home Forest: A fine grove containing several hundred specimens and many 

interesting trees. One, the Hercules Tree, still lives despite the cutting of a large 
room in its heart many years ago. Another, the Sawed Off Tree, was cut com- 
pletely through more than 50 years ago but is still standing. The area includes 
Balch Park, a 160-acre Tulare County Park. On the North Fork of the Middle 
Fork, Tule River. Accessible by road. 

39. Crystal Springs Grove: A beautiful grove on Bear Creek below Mountain Home. 

Contains many interesting trees, including the Wishbone Tree, through which 
passes the old Mountain Home Road. 

40. Maggie Mountain Grove: A small and rather inaccessible grove above Mountain Home 

on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of Tule River. 

41 . Hossack Grove: About 200 widely scattered trees on the divide between the north and 

south branches of the Middle Fork of Tule River. Inaccessible. 

42. Belknap Grove: 43. Mclntyre Grove: 44. Wheel Meadow Grove: A group of relatively 

small groves along the East Fork of the Tule River near Camp Nelson. Some 
groves accessible by road. 

45. Black Mountain Grove: A large grove containing more than 500 large trees, on the 

slopes of Black Mountain between the Middle and South Forks of Tule River. 
Partly in the Tule River Indian Reservation. 

46. Lloyd Meadow Grove: More than 100 large trees scattered for a distance of approx- 

imately 3 miles along Freeman Creek, a tributary of Kern River. 

47. Red Hill Grove: A small inaccessible grove at the head of the South Fork of Tule River. 

48. Long Meadow Grove: A small grove, accessible only by trail. On a tributary of the 

Kern River. 

49. Powderhorn Grove: 52. Starvation Creek Grove: Small groves. The former is accessible 

by road, but the latter is rather inaccessible. On the headwaters of Deer Creek. 


50. Rogers Camp (Peyrone) Grove: 51. Parker Peak Grove: Medium-sized groves, contain- 

ing more than 100 scattered specimens in inaccessible country on the South Fork 
of Tule River. 


53. Pack Saddle Grove: A grove of about 300 large but scattered trees, including one more 

than 22 feet in diameter and 280 feet tall. On South Creek, a tributary of the 
Kern River. Accessible by trail. 

54. Deer Creek Grove: The most southerly grove of giant sequoias. Contains 31 large 

trees and some reproduction. Located about 6 miles north of the southern 
boundary of Tulare County on Deer Creek above Hot Springs. Accessible by road. 




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United States Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, a short ac 
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Figure 14. 


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